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Thread: The Da Vinci Code

  1. #1
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    The Da Vinci Code

    The Da Vinci Code: An Affirmation of Faith

    When Daniel Brown’s book hit the shelves a few years ago, you would have thought the devil wrote the book. The church weighed in to tell us how blasphemous this work of fiction was depicting historical figures inaccurately. A morning herald standing in the Village Square with a brass trumpet could not have peaked the curiosity of the public more. Soon, the book could be seen in the park at lunchtime, next to the pool, on the plane, on a long list at the library, everyone wanted to read about why the church would be so reactive. To tell the truth, they exaggerated their objections to the point of publicity for the novel. The book, like the film, is simply a murder story and an affirmation of faith attached. Why the church would condemn such a thing is beyond me. They did participate in the Inquisition. They perpetrated atrocities on mankind. And they did attempt to cover up many of their mistakes. The Bible was created at a series of councils and so on. Where the book goes off into theory is the part about Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene. This is the so-called controversial part.

    Enter Hollywood. The book is sold and a screenplay written. Ron Howard has crafted an excellent piece of filmmaking with all the right elements for success. The film has intrigue, murder, mystery, villainous characters you love to hate, heroes you love to cheer, changing exotic locations, sub-plots, fast and slow cutting, an excellent score, is photographed quite nice and the acting by Hanks and company is above board. There is even an ending (very similar to the novel) in which the protagonist expresses an affirmation of faith. Quite moving and worth the eight dollars or whatever you pay.

    While this forum is one of film and not religion, I will not enter the debate surrounding the film regarding references to secret societies, either in or out of the church, whether they really exist or if Dan Brown simply pulled everyone’s leg all the way to the bank. I do know that it makes one pause and raises a few eyebrows when these issues are raised. However, this is a work of fiction, no matter how close to the truth it comes. So while the church is out beating its conservative drum and bad mouthing something they know little about; I say go and enjoy an excellently crafted piece of cinema and forget all the dogma. This is a film for the public, not for scholars who wish to endlessly debate the merits of this point or that. I highly recommend, “The Da Vinci Code.”
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    I have to laugh. I guess I am totally in the minority on this one. Not only do most critics HATE this movie, they hate the execution of the film. Oh, well. I missed on MI:III where 60% of the critics loved it. I'm out of step with the critical set.
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    Try being a fan of Alexander.
    "So I'm a heel, so what of it?"
    --Renaldo the Heel, from Crimewave

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    Touche. At least Ebert gave it a semi-favorable review.
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    I wrote this review on (5/17/06 11:10 am) US NY time


    My thoughts ...

    -- Well, i guess i may be one of the rare few who choose to watch the film before reading the book (ALTHOUGH i have bought the book when it was first launched in US, and way before all the media hype and controversy) ... The reason is: Initially, I was so busy that I had no time to read it ... and finally, when I had the time, I heard that it was going to be made into a film ... because I wish to evaluate the film as it is and not try to compare the two media, I procrastinated reading till after watching the film ...

    -- And guess what's my verdict ...

    (i) I feel that the film is watchable as a commercial film (i.e., not as horrible as some critics pen it), BUT I have to qualify that I am NOT blown away by it at all ... it is just another typical (to slightly above average) COMMERICAL film ... the film has some moments/cinematography/choreography/art direction that really look like "A Beautiful Mind" (what to do: the same director) ... it also has some scenes that may need inferences or prior knowledge from reading the book (e.g., in the flashback, how Silas escaped is unclear) ...

    (ii) When I read the book immediately after the film, I have to admit that the book is really a PAGE TURNER ... wow ... a lot of humor and interesting discussion have been lost in the film ... (unfortunately, in the film, only Leigh came across as humorous) ... also, a lot of thoughts/motivation have been lost in the film (but that is understandable because thoughts/motivation are hard to capture)

    (iii) While I do not mind 2.5 hrs of screen time (cos I am used to it), I thought the screenplay could be vastly improved ... although it was kind of faithful to the "overall" plot, there are some scenes that are kind of slow/draggy (could be edited out); instead, the script writer could have added in some portions of the book which have been omitted, to make it more compelling ...

    -- In terms of casting ... wow ... Ian McKellen (Leigh) and Paul Bettany (Silas) stole the show ... the two leads (while being credible actors in OTHER films) did not actually shine nor have much chemistry ... sigh ... in fact, when I first heard that Tom Hanks was cast as Robert, I did tell some of my US friends that I would rather have "unknowns" (even though Tom Hanks is well liked by many, cf. Julia Roberts). I told them that a less known actor might make it easier for him to "jump out" of any preconceived mindset ... in sum, just go watch for the performance of Leigh and Silas ...


    Conclusion
    -- Can watch (as a commercial film), but could be much better ... the performance by Ian McKellen and Paul Bettany is great ... if you think you like the film, I have to admit that the book is MUCH better ...

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    If you think of Hanks as an "everyman" character actor, used in a similar fashion as James Stewart and Cary Grant were with Hitch, with a smidgeon of good looks and humor thrown in, you'd be correct. While there have been other venues that demonstrate his acting talents, The DaVinci Code is not one of them.

    The book is a quick read (unless you get bogged down in the chapter where they start "explaining" everything). It boils down to a murder mystery with a message.

    Over the weekend, National Public Radio ran several open forums. Seems Opus Dei has a bit of a cult thing going on, easier to join than quit. They used to be pretty hard on some members.

    Also, the church had to do a bit of back tracking when they started talking about "Christ's divinity" and the discussions of the Council of Nicea. Seems none of them are too eager to drag that mess into the public light again, as most of the scholars did a ditch and dodge act. Just as I remember it at Catholic School. Don't ask any questions, we know all the answers. Oh, those fibbing nuns!

    The Republicans must have taken their current play book straight from the revisionist Catholics.
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    Code Blue

    Ron Howard's The Da Vinci Code

    Review by Chris Knipp

    The Da Vinci Code was a big bestseller, not, generally, a sign of great literary merit. The author Dan Brown's method, as well as one can detect from the Ron Howard movie version, is to bombard you with arcane-sounding information about Christianity, the divinity of Jesus, signs and symbols, the Priory, the Knights Templar, Opus Dei, and of course Leonardo Da Vinci, who's woven in as an officer of the Priory and unifies the story, to a degree, because it begins with a murder in the Louvre (wasn't Da Vinci an artist? and doesn't he have a painting or two in the Louvre?) -- and to add absurd and quite unbelievable twists, in the interest of -- what, exactly? Well, keeping the story going, I guess. Some who read the book say it looks very foolish on screen. Yes, it does. One doesn't need to read the book to see that. One wonders if this movie will bury the book or revive it. Certainly with the libel trial in London and the pre-opening publicity about "anti-Christian" content, the book has so far done well for the movie's box office.

    What's The Da Vinci Code a story about, exactly? It could be regarded as simply a murder mystery, but it's both much more ambitious and much less successful than the usual detective story. Brown's revisionist account of the Council of Nicaea and claim, at least for the purposes of the novel, that Christ's divinity was a matter of general dispute at the time of the Emperor Constantine, and that Jesus started a blood line with Mary Magdalene, that this was covered up, that the Holy Grail is really a feminine symbol -- the blasphemy gets lost in absurdity and the tangled web adds up to very little, but it keeps Ron Howard and hapless viewers busy and befuddled for two and a half hours. All of this is too preposterous and silly to deserve to be considered a threat to anyone's faith, but the fact that Christians have objected to Brown's book and to its being made into a movie has been amply capitalized upon by the Hollywood promoters (See Frank Rich on the op-ed page of the Sunday, May 21, 2006 NYTimes).

    What happens? A guy gets murdered, pursued by a faceless monk, and flays himself on the floor of the museum. A Harvard professor and expert on symbols named Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) who's conveniently in Paris to give a big lecture (conveniently in English) is summoned by a certain French detective (soon replaced by the main detective, Bezu Fache, i.e., the trusty Jean Reno -- looking bloated, and wasted here) to help out with the symbolism of the cuts the murdered gentleman has made in his body -- and the story is on its jagged way. Clever Prof. Langdon may be, but he needs help, and it comes in the form of a French police cryptographer, Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou).

    Langdon and Neveu proceed to lecture each other through the rest of the movie, augmented by an old friend of Langdon's, Sir Leigh Teabing (Ian McClellan, who shouldn't be here; but who should?), a sort of expert on the Holy Grail who's supposedly in search of that mythical object. What sinks the movie for any intelligent viewer is that it treats us as idiots. It explains the obvious and claims the most ludicrous absurdities to be true.

    Brown's story demonizes the "prelature" known as Opus Dei, to a degree toned down, it's said, in the movie -- but Opus Dei in the movie still includes homicidal self-flagellating monks, most notably the albino madman Silas (Paul Bettany), whose use of the cilice, a way of digging nails in one's leg, is gruesomely illustrated in a scene that would appeal to any masochist and shows off Bettany's hunky nakedness. Silas comes in every so often to start up our pulses, which tend to die down with all the tedious explanations that make up the bulk of the movie.

    Langdon is a professor of "symbology," which Walter Chaw accurately describes as "a malapropism invented by idiots so as not to confuse their flock with real words like 'semiotics' or 'epistemology.'" He's a debased -- horribly debased -- version of Joseph Campbell -- as if Campbell's unifying humanism were reducible to riddles and word games. The movie does a bit better with its monsters -- Silas, and a couple of initially kindly-seeming figures. But the screen-time belongs to the boring explainers, and Hanks and Tautou make the least sexy couple imaginable.

    Reno's casting as a daring detective in a mystery involving murderous monks makes a kind of mindless casting sense, since he played the same thing -- in the person of the intrepid Commissioner Niemans in Matthieu Kassovitz's rousing horror-actioner Crimson Rivers. The sequel, ably directed for visuals by Olivier Dahan but less well for character, also stars Reno as Niemans and is full of faceless, homicidal monks. Either of the Crimson Rivers films provides five times the satisfaction of the talky, absurd Da Vinci Code.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-25-2006 at 01:23 AM.

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    Originally posted by Chris Knipp
    Code Blue
    Review by Chris Knipp

    ... but Opus Dei in the movie still includes homicidal self-flagellating monks, most notably the albino madman Cyrus (Paul Bettany)
    ... Cyrus comes in every so often to start up our pulses, which tend to die down with all the tedious explanations that make up the bulk of the movie.
    ... The movie does a bit better with its monsters -- Cyrus, and a couple of initially kindly-seeming figures.

    Hi Chris,

    minor point ... shldnt it be Silas? and not Cyrus?

    rgds

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    Thank you. Not a minor point! Gosh, I'm sorry.

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    One thing no critic mentioned. The book specifically states Silas is an albino; yet he would be the only one with blue eyes. I guess the color of red would clash with the lighting and make him probably more demonic.

    While I agree with Chris' findings that the film is totally moronic and absurd at times, I did a bit of research on the Council of Nicea. I found that the major arguement under contention was the doctrine that Christ was created and therefore a man and not part of God; therefore, not a deity. The Bishops rejected this as blasphemous. However, the Eastern Orthodox Church retained this belief for another one thousand years before reformists converted them to the 'three in one' belief.

    Either way, the film stirs up a dialogue that is worth discussing; the Catholic church has performed a bit of revisionist history of its own.
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    Thank you for that clarification about the divinity of Christ and Nicaea (but see below), cinemabon. Silas' albino-ness was something that I failed to grasp till it was explained to me by a Dan Brown reader. I just thought he was extremely weird and didn't go out in the light much. I don't agree that the movie or the book are very useful in raising doctrinal or historical issues, however. I'm not a shill for Opus Dei, but their website is informative currently about some of these issues. I quote:
    Those who do further research and exercise critical judgment will discover that assertions made in The Da Vinci Code about Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene, and Church history lack support among reputable scholars. By way of example, The Da Vinci Code popularizes the idea that the fourth century Roman emperor Constantine invented the doctrine of the divinity of Christ for political reasons. The historical evidence, however, clearly shows that the New Testament and the very earliest Christian writings manifest Christian belief in the divinity of Christ. Other examples of discredited claims presented in The Da Vinci Code can be found in this FAQ from Catholic Answers or at the US Bishops' website, www.jesusdecoded.com. For those who are willing to take the time to get to the bottom of the issues raised in The Da Vinci Code, we recommend reading ---The Da Vinci Deception , De-Coding Da Vinci, or The Da Vinci Hoax ...[etc.; these are books: it seems refuting and correcting Dan Brown's questionable, mistaken, or (from the scholarly point of view) downright dumb claims is a whole minor literary industry these days. . .at this point the Opus Dei site goes on to say Da Vinci Code's depiction of Opus Dei "is inaccurate, both in the overall impression and in many details" ----and they of course are more than ready to explain. For that, click on the word "currently" above.]
    The issue is whether a story/movie that's hokey, confused, specious, and poorly written is a good way to have important religious and historical issues brought up. Taking this kind of presentation seriously may be a sign of a level of naivety/misinformation from which it's unlikely to have any enlightenment come. From the point of view of Catholics/Opus Dei people et al., The Da Vinci Code is not so much a teaching tool as a weapon of mass deception and an all-too-effective one.

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    Skepticism is always healthy, even if it is inaccurate. I'm not sure who is doing more of the deceiving, Brown or the Catholic church. Certainly Dan Brown's book is filled with errors. However, he does raise some important issues... that the Catholic church constantly seeks to control any adverse publicity about it... that it keeps women out of his hierarchy, and relentlessly persecuted them... and that, while the Emperor's role in the Council of Nicea was ceremonial at best; this meeting of the bishops came up with a pledge (known as the Nicean Creed) which all the bishops had to swear allegiance. Those who did not sign onto the pledge would seem to be against the church and its teachings. Sound familiar?

    I wouldn't state that my position on the Divinci Code is one of advocacy due to his historical facts, only that he has raised awareness of long standing issues with an institution that seeks to preserve itself over the fate of its parishioners.
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    I didn't read the book and I haven't decided whether to watch the movie. It seems to be a heavily plotted mystery with weak characterizations_which is not generally the type of movie I enjoy most but it's not enough to rule it out.
    I'm enjoying your civil and informative discussion very much and I thank you guys for it.

    It seems to me that the author is demonizing the Opus Dei. This belief is based on my relationship with my grandfather, who was a member. He was a conservative Catholic who attended Mass daily and published a weekly paper on spiritual and church-related matters. But there was nothing creepy about him. He enjoyed a whisky and a cigar before dinner and driving his red Olds a bit too fast. He was kind to everyone, particularly to his employees. My mother met friends of his who were also members and thinks highly of them. This anecdotal stuff is not sufficient to form a learned opinion but it's enough for me, an agnostic since I entered my teens, to suspect the author is scapegoating the Opus Dei and raising issues in a manner not conducive to enlightment (the latter a point Chris has made twice).

    That the Catholic church is the poster boy, so to speak, for flawed institutions who "ditch and dodge" and practice self-preservation at all costs can hardly be debated. That the church "keeps women out of the hierarchy" is, simply, fact. Actually, I would go as far as calling it institutionalized misogyny, which is an opinion.

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    You can callThe Da Vinci Code plot-heavy, but it's more accurate to say that it's explanation-heavy. The plot is clouded by the "lore," but not really so complicated. Oscar Jubis' grandfather was evidently not a self-flagellating killer monk, and Opus Dei has stated that it has no monks as members and "The Silas wannabes are generally [italics mine] screened out," though the article entitled "Hollywood Heresy" by Peter J. Boyer in The New Yorker last week where I got that quote indicates that Opus Dei has been seen by Vatican II era progressive Catholics as a force for ultra-conservatism. The book and the movie may come out of a protestant starting point but really (if taken seriously, which one wishes people wouldn't do, but they just do) is more an attack on Christianity in general than just one on Catholicism; the divinity and celibacy of Jesus are certainly not ideas peculiar only to Catholics.

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    Oh so flat ...

    THE DAVINCI CODE
    Written by Akiva Goldsman
    Directed by Ron Howard


    Ordinarily, I would think it grossly unfair to criticize a work directly regarding its translation from book to film. The literary medium offers its readers the opportunity to imagine the events unfolding any way they would like while the cinematic medium does all the imagining for you. In the case of Ron Howard’s adaptation of author Dan Brown’s international phenomenon, THE DAVINCI CODE, there isn’t much imagination happening on the filmmaker’s part though. Avoiding comparison here would actually be the great injustice as the immense anticipation that preceded the release of this film was all to do with the ultra-wide popularity of the book. Brown’s novel is easily digested. It’s lead characters, Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu, are being chased by numerous parties throughout lavish and romantic European settings. The chase and threat of capture keeps people turning the pages and the international flavour makes people feel as if in the presence of culture. For likely many others, and myself, these were the least intriguing elements of the book. What kept me coming back and barreling through hundreds of pages at a time was the book’s unapologetic and relentless blasphemy against the Christian faith. Brown immerses the viewer amidst characters and settings that exist to varying degrees in real life, thus blurring the lines between fiction and non. Somewhere in between the facts and the fabrications, Brown drops his theoretical bomb – that the ever-elusive Holy Grail, the cup of Jesus Christ, is in fact not a cup at all but rather a person, a woman. The woman in question is the infamous Mary Magdalene and the chalice is her womb, the carrier of the bloodline of Jesus Christ. Yes, you heard right, folks! Jesus got it on with the prostitute and she went on to have his child and their descendants are still here on earth today. I am not for attacks on Christians without purpose but this is not an attack so much as an alternate theory to the foundation their shaky religion rests upon.

    I can understand why the Vatican is concerned about the impact this film could have. If you forget for a second, it’s easy to get sucked into all this lore and accept it as fact or at least as potentially true. That being said, it is borderline insulting of the Vatican to presume the film-going public is not intelligent enough to know the difference between history and plain story. Their concern is not for the entire film-going public though, it is more so for the middle of the road viewer who just passively absorbs images without thinking. When I think of these filmgoers, I think of the ideal Ron Howard fan. Howard doesn’t make bad movies (OK, HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS was bad) but he also doesn’t make spectacular movies (and no, I don’t have an example to refute that). THE DAVINCI CODE has all the elements one would expect from a large-scale Howard production, from big names to big locations. But what it attempts to mask with size is not a lack of substance but rather a lack of control over that substance. Howard coaxes performances from the cast that are inconsistent and hollow. As Langdon, Tom Hanks is sensible, curious and introspective. Ian McKellan plays Leigh Teabing, a Holy Grail expert as playful and cheeky. On the other hand, the usually deep Alfred Molina is farcical and Audrey Tautou looks lost and confused as Neveu; at times she barely seems to know where to stand.

    One of the book’s major criticisms, aside from it relying too heavily on conspiracy theories and barely bothering with style, is that it reads like a high-spirited Hollywood blockbuster. Ironically, Howard’s film interpretation plays out nothing like one. It is tiring at times and stale at others. The hackneyed script by frequent Howard collaborator, Akiva Goldsman, cuts out numerous Grail factoids from the book that lend to the theory’s credibility but yet still manages to get frequently bogged down in Grail history throughout the film. The result is slowed pacing during scenes that are meant to be suspenseful. Lengthy background explanations take place during car chases and moments when killers are waiting to attack in the next room but the danger never presents itself until the explaining is all done (leading me to wonder if perhaps the attacker took a bathroom break). With the action forced to wait its turn, the viewer feels the flaws and loses their patience. Howard has taken a book that seemed to have been written with a film deal in mind and made a mess of the already carefully laid plans. As cheap as it is to say this, I must. You’re better off reading the book.
    I have no idea what I'm doing but incompetence has never prevented me from plunging in with enthusiasm.
    - Woody Allen

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